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In real life, leaves are surprisingly translucent. Here's a cool effect that we added to make our plants have much more realistic lighting. Screenshots and technical explanation inside!

Posted by jeffr on Aug 20th, 2009

I was pretty happy with how the Overgrowth trees look when lit from the front, as shown in this shot:

Mountain trees

But what about when lit from the back?

Direct lighting

This didn't look quite right to me because leaves are translucent; and here we should be seeing light coming through the leaves. I went out to a park to take some reference pictures of real leaf translucency:

Reference photo

So what dermines how much light we see filtering through the back of a leaf? One factor is how close the leaf is to the image of the sun. Another factor is the angle between the leaf and the sun. The final factor is the translucency of each part of the leaf. Here is a picture showing these three components:

Translucency breakdown

When they are all combined, we get a correctly lit tree!

Final result

What do you think of our leaf translucency? Are there any ways that we could improve it?(permalink)

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Post comment Comments
NullSoldier Aug 20 2009 says:

Thanks god. Fullbright or uniformly lit trees in games are starting to annoy me.

It looks so good.

+9 votes     reply to comment
Midnitte Aug 21 2009 replied:

Aye, you guys are doing some pretty amazing stuff!

+1 vote     reply to comment
Noremakk Aug 22 2009 replied:


+1 vote     reply to comment
sauerfreak Aug 20 2009 says:

Whoa, that's some awesome foliage lighting. I like how you guys keep posting these articles about how you do all of these cool effects. Kudos, and keepitup! :]

+1 vote     reply to comment
FlySpyGuy Aug 20 2009 says:


+3 votes     reply to comment
Woolybear777 Aug 20 2009 says:

I've died and gone to heaven.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Squeebo Aug 20 2009 says:

Awesome looking tree! =D That's a weird thing to say. I see so many trees... But that one is awesome.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Brightgalrs Aug 20 2009 says:

Awesome! But, show us some leaves! All I see are pine trees.

+1 vote     reply to comment
willy-wilson Aug 20 2009 says:

what your doing here is great and i say keep up the good work a thought though is why stop with the trees... this could be used for ears cloth and many other things i would experiment even more and see what else you can use this for

+1 vote     reply to comment
nineteen Aug 21 2009 says:

It's the little things that make the biggest impact, especially to immersion geeks like me :)

Thanks for the insight, hope to see more of your work soon!

+2 votes     reply to comment
vfn4i83 Aug 21 2009 says:

Great work.

Are we going to see the same transluncent in grass, also?

+2 votes     reply to comment
mothmann Aug 21 2009 replied:

translucent grass ftw. Also I love theses updates about how your improving your tech.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Myloman Aug 21 2009 says:

Looks stunning. Really enjoying the attention to detail and lighting techniques. Each update keeps making this game all the more sweeter.

+1 vote     reply to comment
moci Aug 21 2009 replied:

Besides the concept art there is not much "game" to it at the moment.
People don't realize that they are working on the engine now.

A great looking engine, but still just the engine.

+1 vote     reply to comment
formerlyknownasMrCP Aug 21 2009 says:

man that is epic.

+2 votes     reply to comment
V-H2O Aug 21 2009 says:


+1 vote     reply to comment
Packer Aug 21 2009 says:

Reminds me of Leafs.

+1 vote     reply to comment
PierreOfTheFrench Aug 21 2009 says:

I think basically anything you guys do just exceeds expectations over and over. Keep the news coming, it's always a treat to see how you guys think and work. Great job with the translucency, I can't wait for release :)

+1 vote     reply to comment
PringleX Aug 21 2009 says:

Makes me think of SpeedTree, and how pretty much all developers now being too lazy to make their own tree assetes using it. Glad you guys aren't like that! Oh, and your trees look fantastic!

+1 vote     reply to comment
dill1233 Aug 21 2009 says:

Completely magnificent! You guys come up with the best techniques for rendering wonderful pieces of art. I won't be surprised if your game becomes one of the best, fully thought out indies we have seen in a long time!

+1 vote     reply to comment
pfannkuchen_gesicht Aug 21 2009 says:

is this equal to SSS?

+1 vote     reply to comment
jeffr Author
jeffr Aug 21 2009 replied:

Subsurface scattering? Sort of, this is a pretty simple model though. It doesn't take into account the light bouncing around inside of the leaf and reflecting back, which is the main thing about subsurface scattering, IIRC.

+1 vote   reply to comment
death_fly Aug 21 2009 says:

Looks awesome! I though 'god, I have to buy this' then I realized I already have! YAY!

+1 vote     reply to comment
vp21ct Aug 22 2009 says:

I always was amazed by how Indie developers are the real people who push the envelope.

+1 vote     reply to comment
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